Olympic Handlebar Design Process

Development of new technology is often shrouded by secrecy and draped with silk cloths to shield prying eyes. ‘Top secret’ information is kept close to the heart of the innovators and seldom you get a glimpse of the behind the scenes.

At Velobike, we have a philosophy to support, encourage and contribute innovation in the sport of track cycling. We are open with all our development  often sharing progress shots via our Instagram and Facebook pages.

The Bunch Bar project was a collaboration between ourselves and Cycling New Zealand to develop a solution for the men’s and women’s Olympic representative omnium, madison and bunch riders to achieve maximum aerodynamic efficiency, comfort and safety while riding medium to long-distance track races.

The project began with a human-centred approach to explore and discuss how the New Zealand riders (among other riders around the world) grip their bars at various staged in the race. A series of lo-fi prototypes were made to test the geometry, bike fit and grip locations for the rider during madison slings and gripping the horns when in the hoods.

The greatest loss of energy while riding on the track is caused by the drag of the rider. Handlebars play an important role in getting the body in a position to reduce drag. In longer distance races, it isn’t uncommon for riders to begin draping their hands over the front of the drops. The position keeps them low, but reduced fatigue from staying in the same position for too long. This draped hand position isn’t the safest of grips and is at times the cause of a crash.

The horns on the bars are designed to provide the most support and control for the rider in multiple hand positions while maintaining an aerodynamic posture and bar design. The horns provide a backstop for the palms to push against - to get the forearms horizontal, and the elbows at 90 degrees.

In response to the international demand for bars to go narrow, the first model in production is 350mm wide in the drops, and 300mm wide in the hoods. The drop is a respectable 120mm, with a reach from the centre of the stem clamp to the front edge of the drop of 100mm. This combination of drop width and reach was optimal for the New Zealand riders to maximise their reach to the maximum 50mm past the front wheel axle.

All new equipment to be used at the Tokyo Olympics must undergo an approval process at a registered World Cup event before 2020. The last of these tech approvals were the Cambridge World Cup in New Zealand (December 6-8). The process involves several UCI representatives setting the bars up on a bike to ensure it meets geometry restrictions, measuring the tube sections to ensure a 3:1 ratio and assessed for their safety to ensure they aren’t going to cause serious injury. Each innovation is 3D scanned and documented for future assessment if required. They are given a sticker which confirms their approval.

The images following illustrate a glimpse of the process involved in turning the handlebars from an idea into a UCI approved product. We are now hard tooling up the moulds to manufacture the bars in volume. The Bunch Bars are available to purchase now.

Sketching an endurance handlebar concept in the studio.

Concept sketches in the early stages of the handlebar development.

From the concept sketches, the handlebar design was modeled in CAD software. Force testing, and CFD analysis was undergone to identify weak points in the design. Multiple iterations of the CAD model were developed to obtain high performance figures.

3D Printing the the first of four prototype iterations in plastic.

Each prototype model was printed in pieces and glued together. Wooden dowels kept alignment between the components.

The riders were able to hold onto the prototype models, test grip configurations and identify areas to further refine.

Throughout the process, the 3D printed models were mocked up on multiple bike to test various rider geometries.

A final model was produced as a male mould for making the one-off carbon fiber version for UCI approval. The carbon moulding was outsourced to a carbon layup professional.

The carbon fiber prototype UCI approved and stickered at the 2019 Cambridge World Cup.

George Jackson representing the Southern Spars trade team racing the bars in the scratch race at the UCI Cambridge World Cup.

Shop the Bunch Bars now.

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